This weekend’s most desirable slice of gaming is doubtless to be the alpha test for Destiny on PS4. It puts the first entry of Bungie’s grand new Sci-Fi odyssey into the hands of gamers for the first time, so that they might get a taste of what they can expect later in the year, for both the full game and the beta test.
While we’ll have more in depth coverage from the alpha over the next few days, coming from those who have spent much more time with the game than I, we wanted to give some preliminary impressions on what the game is like to play. On offer in the alpha are the Strike mode and the competitive multiplayer of the Crucible, giving two contrasting sides of the game an airing in public. While the multiplayer will doubtless be a big part of the game for the community, it’s the co-operative play that I found to be the more interesting and more revealing.
At its heart, this is an action RPG, but one which has been blended with a first person shooter, so that the simplest comparison would be to the Borderlands games. Enemies have health bars hovering over their heads, for example, while numbers fly off the enemies as your bullets hit them and deal damage.
Parallels can also easily be drawn to the co-operative focus of Borderlands, though here we see three central archetypes or classes – Warlock, Hunter and Titan – rather than four. That threesome comes together in the three man fire teams that the game has been designed around, and it’s clear that playing with two others is going to be the best way to experience the game.
A key part is simply having the support of other players to pick you up off the floor when you are incapacitated, or hide from enemies so that you can respawn on your own and rejoin the fray. This dynamic primarily comes into play during the larger encounters, with lesser enemies of the Fallen faction, who can be dispatched by a few bullets, bolstered by the appearance of their shielded Captains, who will try to hide and recharge their shields, much as you will do with your own recharging health bar.
However, even the Captains can be killed quickly and efficiently with certain tactics; throwing a grenade in will drain their shields to leave them vulnerable, while you can always break out your heavy weapon for greater damage. It’s the bosses which will really take the most work to take down, and it took several gruelling minutes of shooting the Devil Walker’s highlighted weak spots, dealing with other Fallen and frequently reviving downed team mates before we could finally defeat it.
The world that has been built around this familiar gameplay is also very, very different. This is a more straight-laced Sci-Fi universe, with a grand story of ending humanity’s plight and the hopeful reemergence out from under The Traveller’s protection. Though there are still many thematic ties to the likes of the Halo universe and even back to Marathon, this is to be a new story entirely.
Bungie has long been an expert with the multiplayer portion of their games and Destiny’s Crucible seems to continue that strong heritage. However, in this 6 vs. 6 battle, you take the characters that you have created and customised through playing the story and Strike missions into battle against another team of Guardians.
Taking those same characters and gameplay mechanics lends it a somewhat more considered and slower pace than a typical twitch shooter. Certainly, the shields are lenient enough that you can try to turn the tables on your assailant or try to make good an escape from their line of sight.
You’re also very mobile and agile, with the double jump actually giving you a few seconds of jetpack thrust to get you up to a high vantage point. This is then further bolstered on larger maps which feature vehicles, as well as allowing you to summon your own customised speeder bike-like Sparrow to help you get around quickly.
In truth, I barely scratched the surface of what the alpha has to offer, let alone the final game, in my brief hands on time at E3. Yet, they showed two facets of the game which seems to have a lot of depth, as well as the potential to grab a hold of gamers’ collective imaginations and see Bungie embark on a grand new saga.